ABOARD THE LOUIS CRISTAL – I could never understand what Jackie Kennedy saw in Aristotle Onassis. But I can certainly see why the former First Lady fell in love with the Greek island of Mykonos.
Mesmerizing Mykonos is definitely one of the most popular and most-visited Greek isles.
“The first cruise ship docked here in the 1920s,” guide Amaryllis said.
But jet setters really put the spotlight on Mykonos in the 1960s. Some say Jackie Kennedy and other luminaries like Grace Kelly, Liz Taylor and Marlon Brando helped introduce Mykonos to world travelers.
Today, Mykonos has a year-round population of about 10,000 and draws almost 1.8 visitors a year, Amaryllis said. When our Louis Cristal cruise stopped in Mykonos, the place was packed. July and August are the busiest months and, although the island has a reputation for partying, we were still able to find a quiet place to watch one of every day’s highlights – the sunset.
Not since my visit to Key West in Florida have I seen any place celebrate the end of each day as the folks do in Mykonos. People begin lining up hours beforehand at their favorite viewing places, usually with drinks in hands to watch the sun slip from sight. It is beautiful, even more than my camera could capture.
According to mythology, Mykonos was formed from the petrified bodies of giants killed by Hercules. The island took its name from the grandson of Apollo – Mykonos. We had only about five hours on Mykonos so barely glimpsed some of the attractions. I could have spent days exploring the wonders that seemed to appear wherever I looked.
Although I didn’t get to see him, I heard about the island’s mascot, Petros the Pelican. The story goes that a pelican was found wounded by a local fisherman after a terrible storm in the 1950s. When the pelican was nursed back to health, the bird decided to stick around. He was given the name of Petros or Peter and soon was a beloved sight around the island.
On Dec. 2, 1985, however, Petros was hit by a car. The island went into mourning until, it is said, Jackie Onassis donated a replacement pelican. Anyway, the newest Petros can usually be found surrounded by a group of tourists with cameras clicking away.
Mykonos is a very walkable island and that is probably the best way to see it. We explored our way through Mykonos Town where the streets are lined with little shops, boutiques, art galleries, cafes, stylish bars and restaurants. We strolled though Little Venice, an 18th century district with grand sea captains’ mansions whose balconies perch over the sea. We saw a wedding celebration taking place outside a historic church. We walked up to the lovely windmills set on a luminous blue backdrop on the hillside above.
“We have had windmills on Mykonos since the 1500s,” Amaryllis said. “We have over 330 days of wind on Mykonos each year. The winds come from the north and are a lifesaver. They keep us comfortable.”
We stopped for a drink at an unusual boutique hotel called Theoxenia, Jackie Kennedy’s favorite place on Mykonos. It was June 10, 1961, to be precise, when America’s First Lady set foot on Mykonos for the very first time. She was said to be there for a quiet visit courtesy of Greek Prime Minister Constantine Karamalis.
Theoxenia is also where Jackie and Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis had an affair, according to the hotel clerk who showed us around. Truth? Who knows.
After John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, his widow did marry Onassis on Oct. 20, 1968, on Skorpios, Onassis’ privately-owned island.
Theoxenia itself seems stuck in the ‘60s. It felt very pleasant and sort of weird to be walking around the hotel. Built about half a century ago, Theoxenia is a very plush place as befitting all the celebrities who have stayed and continue to stay here.
Theoxenia has 52 rooms with Pop Art and dramatic colors like orange and deep turquoise. It also has a restaurant, named simply The Plate, plus the Breeze Out pool bar and Breeze In indoor bar. The BHealthy Club has exercise equipment and offers personal fitness training as well as spa treatments and the original impossibly-blue swimming pool outside. Of course, the hotel has all the modern amentias that weren’t available in the ‘60s, like large flat screen TVs and speedy WiFi.
The hotel name is said to honor a theme in Greek mythology of extending hospitality to any guest as though he or she might be a deity in disguise. Theoxenia décor is rather simple and sixtyish as though Theoxenia knows that it can’t compete with the natural beauty of Mykonos. And it shouldn’t want to. After all, the views on this island are amazing and the hotel has one of the best sites on Mykonos – right next to the famous windmills overlooking the Aegean Sea.
It isn’t hard to sit here in a comfy lounger sipping whatever cocktail the young waiter is serving and imagine what it must have been like back in the ‘60s. Serene and stylish, Theoxenia seems a portal to another time. I definitely hope to return someday.
Photos and video by Jackie Sheckler Finch
Aug. 2, 2014